The Department of Finance has set 2014 reduction targets for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine of €28.5m in current expenditure and €25.5m on capital expenditure.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told yesterday’s Oireachtas joint committee on agriculture, food and the marine, that his department’s savings target was lower than last year, but added that there were still some “complex discussions” to be had in terms of the sector’s approach to the strategic challenges it is facing.
Reacting to Mr Coveney’s comments at the Oireachtas committee discussion on the budget, IFA president John Bryan said the minister must stand up for agriculture at the cabinet table and ensure that farm schemes, including Disadvantaged Areas, agri-environment schemes and the Sheep Grassland Scheme, are fully protected in the budget.
Mr Bryan said the minister must deliver a substantial suckler cow payment in the budget as a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the drystock sector.
The IFA president said the minister must also ensure agri-environment payments for farmers whose contracts finish at the end of the year are allowed a roll-over in 2014. It is unacceptable that farmers who have environmental designations and restrictions imposed on them would not have a scheme to compensate them for their losses next year.
On TAMS, there is a significant under-spend and the minister has to introduce greater flexibility for applicants, he said.
Mr Bryan added: “IFA analysis shows that farm schemes have taken the brunt of the minister’s cuts in recent years. It is time for new investment in primary production, which underpins the jobs and exports in the sector”.
However, one agriculture sector analyst suggested that the department can achieve most of its savings targets from spending reductions that are due to happen naturally in any case.
Around €4m will be saved due to farmers naturally leaving the early retirement scheme. Reduced capital spending on marketing and processing will save around €8m next year. The department will also gain a €9m saving due to the Haddington Road agreement.
Around €10m will be saved by the non-payment of the Suckler Welfare Scheme next year. There are around 13,000 farmers leaving REPS 4, amounting to a €25m saving, though a carryover of payments from 2013 into 2014 must also be taken into account.
In all, this would amount to naturally occurring savings of about €45m under the department’s capital costs; versus the department’s €25.5m target. Naturally occurring current savings amount to €39m; versus the €28m target.
“The department’s capital spend of €168m will not be sufficient to cover all its requirements,” said the analyst.
“While REPS was not mentioned in yesterday’s Oireachtas committee meeting, it would be a real concern for the scheme’s 13,000 farmers that those exiting would be properly compensated.”